Char Chaffin writes mostly women’s fiction but is also trying her hand at paranormal romance, since she has long been fascinated by vampires and werewolves. Her stories feature heroines on a journey of self-awareness and improvement, paired with men who might not always understand them but love them, unconditionally, through times of crisis as well as triumph.
Char lives on a sixty-acre farm in the Mohawk Valley region of Upstate New York. She’s a native New-Yorker who grew up in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. A thirty-five year love affair with her husband, Don, netted her a deep appreciation for all the nuances of romance. Since Don is retired Air Force, it also afforded her a chance to travel. They’ve lived in six different states, have traveled to many more, and at this stage in Char’s life she can claim to have been in all fifty states, including sixteen years in Alaska. Char and Don’s farm life is ruled by Daisy Mae, their thirteen-year-old Rat Terrier, who rides herd on Cat One and Cat Two, originally hired as barnyard mice and pigeon wranglers.
Char has held a wide scope of jobs, including live-in nanny, a stint on a dairy farm, working as a data technician for USAF Fighter Pilots at Nellis AFB in Nevada, owner/operator of a drive-through espresso stand, and an accounting/fiscal officer for the University of Alaska. But one of her happiest days occurred when Don said to her, “Okay, you can retire now, and write.”
Farming now takes up most of Char’s spring and summer. Reading is more vital to her than breathing (most of the time), and she seldom sits without a book in hand. Unless she’s—of course—sitting in her office, writing. When she can be persuaded to leave her computer or drop the book, Char enjoys cooking, canning, and crocheting. She’s also an accomplished seamstress.
I asked Char about her favorite treats, and here’s what she had to say . . .
One of my favorite snacks is my homemade Black Bean and Corn Salsa with homemade Flour Tortillas. (Recipe for both available on request!) Pair it with Alaskan Amber Beer or Diet Dr. Pepper.
In honor of Char’s visit, we’re serving up virtual versions of that yummy salsa with her tortillas, so, help yourself. You can munch out while you enjoy learning more about Char and her writing..
Char’s Journey Begins
You’ve been writing for ten years, beginning with poetry and moving on to short stories. What did your early experiences teach you?
Mostly, that I didn’t know squat about writing! I had to teach myself to write for others as well as for myself. I think it’s important to write what you feel, but for me it’s just as vital to write for the sake of the readers’ enjoyment. My grammar skills were always good. Now, I had to learn to write believable characters and put them in intriguing situations. In other words, create a manuscript!
When did you become serious about seeing your name in print and begin writing your first romance novel?
Probably about five years ago. I had an image of that first novel in my head, but finding spare hours to sit and write it down was the tough part. At the time, we owned and operated three hectic local businesses. I was working fourteen-hour days, coming home at night in a state of collapse. And there were still chores to do on the farm. Extra hours for writing took a back seat, though I never lost my desire to get those words down and start forming my novel.
You joined Romance Writers of America® recently and have made some great connections. How did this come about? In what ways has your involvement in RWA® helped you grow as a writer?
Joining RWA was originally my husband’s idea. He’s a great motivator! Of course I knew of RWA, but I sometimes let other things get in the way of small, important goals. Don merely told me (in a much more polite way) to ‘get my thumb out of my butt’ and join, take advantage of available resources. So I joined. Very smart decision (thank you, Honey!).
Char’s Conference High
You attended your regional RWA conference this past June and had some good things happen. Please tell us about them.
Attending my first regional conference was an enormous boost to my inner focus. Meeting others in my boat (trying to get published), talking to chapter members who are published and hearing how long it took for them to realize their dreams… It was and will continue to be the best learning experience for me. I was also able to pitch two manuscripts (nervous experience!), and one, my first completed manuscript, was requested in its entirety.
Woohoo! How exciting that an agent is interested in seeing your story. I wish you well on your revisions and hope it leads to an offer of representation.
Thanks! I’ve got so many friends and family crossing their fingers and toes! Some luck should come of that alone! One of my good friends, also a writer, sent me bracelets for my birthday; one spells out ‘writer’ and the other spells out ‘author.’ I feel charmed when I wear them! I’m happy to announce that my revisions are done and the ‘new and improved’ manuscript has been sent to the agent, who hopefully will love it and want it (more crossed fingers, toes, even a few eyes).
Char’s Challenges and Solutions
Writers face many challenges. What are some of yours? What do you do to overcome them?
I am fascinated by what drives a person to sit down at a computer or typewriter and choose to write, when there are other things to do or experience. I question my own reasons behind why I do it. Usually I come up with the same answer, each time: because I have to. It’s never completely easy and the urge to talk myself out of dedicating time on my current project can be overwhelming especially because I’m home all day and so many other things demand my time.
Then there’s writer’s block, which every writer faces one time or another. For me, there’s no magic solution: I just make myself sit down and start, even if it means I stare at a blank screen. Eventually, it’ll come to me. I also promise myself a treat if I make a decent dent in the writing, usually centered around chocolate. <g>
Char’s Writing Process
What is the most thrilling aspect of the writing process for you?
That first instant of writing out the bare bones/outline, when the characters click and the plot makes sense and I’m psyched enough to think, “Oh, boy, somebody’s really going to want to read this when I’m finished!”
What aspects of the writing process do you find most challenging?
Pushing past the first five chapters. I don’t know why Chapter Number Six is the magic chapter for me, but it almost always is. I’ve got my share of stories in my Unfinished Biz folder on my computer (every writer has some form or other of those, I guarantee), where Chapter Five was where I stopped. My goal and personal promise to myself is that I’ll finish every one of them.
Where do you craft your stories? Do you hole up in an office, hang out at a coffee house, or head to a park where you’re surrounded by nature’s sights and sounds?
Oh, I bury myself in my office. If it’s warm out, I open a window so that I can hear the outside, birds chirping, wind rustling, doesn’t matter. No music; just whatever sounds I hear outside. If it’s just too cold out to open a window—I do live in New York, after all!—then I ‘listen’ to the story. Listening to the story will net me the sounds I need to get me motivated.
How do you begin a story? Do you just sit down with an idea in mind and start writing, or are you a person who wouldn’t dream of starting without a detailed outline, character sketches, and pages of research data?
It depends. I’ve been known to create detailed outlines, several pages long. Doing research also depends on what I know of the back-story I’m trying to create. Sometimes I spend hours on the internet, digging up what I need to set a story in a certain locale. Names of small towns, names of streets, what kind of stores, what variety of houses. What flowers grow there, what trees. If I set a story in a place I know well—for example, I’ve started one that takes place in rural Alaska—then I just sit down, crack my knuckles and dig in. I figure the lead characters will come, eventually, and they always do.
How did you approach the revisions requested by the agent who was interested in seeing a shorter version of your story?
Well, I was offered a choice: pare it down, or forget it. Couched in much nicer terms, of course! She seems happy with my writing style, but she’s right: the manuscript was too large for an unproven, unpublished writer. She gave me a ‘magic number’ as a goal, and that’s what I worked toward. It meant being very careful to preserve the integrity of the plot and the detail of the characters without letting things like excessive back-story and passive voice get in the way.
I also got some excellent help, from a published writer I met online in an RWA workshop. She also does freelance editing. She was instrumental in helping me cut/revise/improve. And she really pushed me to rid myself of the dreaded passive voice.
Char’s Sources of Inspiration
Who or what sparks the ideas for your stories?
I’m married to a romantic man, and that helps a lot! I’ll remember something we did together, in our past. Sometimes I have dreams. Sometimes Don has dreams, and they’re good enough to write down and then outline. Maybe I’ll hear a song, and that will trigger a scene, which in turn becomes a story. Sometimes I see a person on the street and my mind starts weaving around them, based on nothing more than what they look like or what they’re doing.
It’s a place, it’s a holiday; it’s a drive in a car or a pair of shoes I see in a shop window. I imagine who might buy those shoes and where they might wear them, and there’s a scene. Which might become a story. I’ll see a woman combing her long hair and think of what I’d do if I had hair that long. Then I create a character around the hair. I’ll hear an accent that strikes me the right way. I guess I’m saying: anything!
What inspires you when you’re writing? Music? Motivational sayings on your office walls? A hefty dose of caffeine?
The story inspires me the most. I feed off what I’m writing as I’m writing it. I am easily distracted, so having music playing isn’t a good idea. I don’t answer the phone, I don’t watch TV. If someone talks to me, chances are I won’t hear them. I really zone out.
Who or what serves to spur you on, lifts you up, and keeps you moving forward with dogged determination in pursuit of your dream of publication?
Well… Dream of publication is in there, for sure. I have to imagine how awesome it would be to see something I created, in print and in my hand. Hopefully on bookshelves, too! But I know I’ll write no matter what. I can’t see myself ever stopping. I may not publish a single book, or if I do, I might not sell many of what I publish. But I’ll never stop writing.
My family has faith in me; they always have. They understand my need to write, and that’s not always an easy thing for them. If I’m never a success, they’ll know it’s not for lack of trying.
Char’s Journey Continues
What do you plan to work on now that you’ve completed your revisions?
I have three manuscripts started—which for me means I’ve gotten past Chapter Five. Since I have sent my revised manuscript on to the agent and am currently waiting to see what she thinks, I’m ready to sit down with one of three, and start in on it again. I won’t know which one until I re-read all of them. It’ll come to me, then. Fingers crossed!
Five Fun Facts About Char
~ I was a costume designer for a small light-opera troupe in Alaska, designing for the entire ensemble, my specialty being historical eras and hat-making (think headdresses and Tudor-esque head-gear). I’ve also designed and sewn three wedding gowns.
~ I spent five years on the front lines of a Sweet Adelines chorus, singing barbershop harmony; I was also their costume designer. During my years with them, our chorus went to regional competition and won First Place.
~ I’ve sung cabaret on stage during Alaska Summer Art Festivals. I do a mean version of ‘Making Whoopee.’ <g>
~ I create recipes. Fairly easy when you know basic ratios. For instance, a cup of shortening/butter/oil to two cups of flour, increase seasoning by a half-teaspoon for each new added ingredient, etc.
~ I’m a huge horror fan. I started watching horror movies when I was about four years old. My older brothers would sneak me out of bed on Saturday nights to watch ‘Chiller Theatre’ with them. I sat in the middle and got to hold the popcorn. I passed on the legacy to daughter Sue Ann, who saw her first scary movie at age five or six. She’s hooked, too.
~ I made PRO status a few weeks ago! Definitely an accomplishment, and I guess you could call it a sixth fun fact! As the song goes, ‘things can only get better.’ <g>
Char’s Question for You
I’ve stated above that I will keep writing regardless of whether or not I publish. I’d like to know: is there any reason you’d stop writing; anything in your life that could turn you away from creating art with words?
Char has generously offered to give away a gift basket of home-canned goods.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Char by midnight October 19 and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process.
On October 20, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address.
Congratulations to Amy Kennedy, winner of Char’s home-canned goodies.
Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.
Learn More About Char
Visit her website: http://char.chaffin.com
Visit her personal blog: Char Chaffin
Friend her on Facebook ~ Char Chaffin